DISCLAIMER: Any walking, hiking, cragging, bouldering and more on private land is considered TRESPASSING. This endangers not only yourself, legally, but jeopardizes all our relationships with land managers. Please do not trespass under any circumstances.
It’s hard to explore. For many of us living the suburban/city life, the itch to get out can be tremendous. Yet if you don’t have that will to get out of your comfort zone, we’re often sequestered to relying on more experienced friends to show you the cool spots or spending money with a guide. But there are still hidden gems out in the woods – beyond the confines of traffic, backyards and the steel jungle. So if you want to try something new, yet local, here are some tips for finding a new local crag.
Note that this mostly pertains to roped climbing, as cliffs are more likely to show up on a topographical map. For bouldering, I would skip step 1.
1. Get out a map. Learn how to read it. Look for steepness. Look for ravines if you’re looking for ice. Here are a couple different topo maps with good potential for climbing.
Obviously the upper tiers on Torne Mountain show some much more obvious steep sections. Actual observation confirms this, but the whole steep hillside is more of a series of discontinuous vertical cliffs. Think of it like a section of vertical rock, giant ledge, section of vertical rock, giant ledge. Sort of like Buttermilk falls in the Catskills. As an example, here a topo of the 4 main ravines along 23A in the Catskills that are prime ice climbing spots.
As you can see, the topo contour lines show a pretty steady change in elevation. Yet when you’re there you have 40-60 foot cliffs interspersed along a stream with much more mellow inclines.
2. Get out there and explore those steep contour lines
I personally get a kick out of this whole process, but the next step offers the most excitement. It can be a long arduous day of hiking around and finding nothing, or it can be type two fun, or you could uncover the next best piece of climbing rock. Many times, the map you’ll be exploring won’t have any trails or easy ways to access it. That is where the fun comes in. Take a look around. If you’re using a handheld GPS, explore in a radius beyond the site you think there is a cliff.
An addendum to step 2 is know the rock of your area. Harriman state park, for instance has for the most part some quality gneiss, while the Catskills – an ancient eroding plateau – has some very chossy, usually wet and mossy, Devonian rocks. As a result, the Catskills are great for ice climbing, not as great for rock climbing.
A personal example from this comes from just a year or two ago. I was exploring some steep hills near my parent’s house in the Taconic Mountains in upstate New York. The Taconics are some of the oldest mountains in the region and at their highest towered as high as the Alps. Here was the map I looked at to being my search:
I planned on looking around that steep eastward facing cliff line called “The Knob”. The first day I hiked the whole ridge line South to North and peered over the eastern edge every once in a while to see if there was anything promising. The slop was steep, but no cliffs that I could see.
The next time I went, I went straight up the slope head on and then moved north and south to explore. This was a long day full of slipping on wet leaves and rocks. I did find one small overhanging cliff (located around the section where it says the words “The Knob), but the rock was like blue cheese. A light earthquake and I would be convinced that the rocks would just peel away from the hillside.
The only other interesting thing I found was a long steep talus field where the talus was the size of mid-size sedans. Great bouldering opportunities, but terrible landings the whole way. I haven’t found the gem out there yet, but I know it exists…
3. Befriend local outdoors-people (hunters, trappers, hikers, trail maintainers) and ask them if they have seen any cliffs.
I don’t have too many hunter friends. I did always find this little story about the Adirondacks interesting. This is a story of how the Lost Hunter’s Crag was discovered in the Adirondacks. This is taken from Mountain Project but the Adirondack Rock guidebook has a much better description:
> The Lost Hunters cliff was originally discovered (for rock climbing) around 1994 by Fred Abbuhl and his dad on a hunting trip. Several climbs were put in, mostly very difficult, 5.12 to 5.13. Bill Griffith took an interest in the cliff in late 2008 and in 2009 dragged several of us in there to help build some more climbs.
> The main cliff at Lost Hunter is kind of strange; you can stand right below it and not be able to see it at all. You have to walk up a small slot to get to the cliff base. When you get there it is impressive, overhanging and scary.
As a bonus, Adirondack Rock offers a map section of their website for free. Check out this screen shot of the Lost Hunter’s crag from the CalTopo map:
Using maps and actual observations are the best way to find a new crag at this point. The wilderness holds many hidden gems, some which can’t be seen easily and want to stay hidden. Stepping out of your comfort zone into that unknown – you may find nothing – but you’ll come back more refined and better in tune with maps and exploration.
Maybe I don’t have enough orienteering or map experience yet, but the Lost Hunger’s Crag on the map is not an area I would have expected to have a cliff. Yet it is there, with a ton of hard routes and has entered into Adirondack Rock lore as a cliff worth visiting to test your might. It is a hidden gem. Even the description says, “you can stand right below it and not be able to see it at all.”
UPDATE: The other day, someone approached me about this post. It was quite random as I never actually expected real people that I interact with to stumble across this blog. Regardless, he brought up a very good point. I never brought up Private Land. This is a HUGE issue in climbing and this post specifically. So, I’ve added the disclaimer to the top.